Tale of the Bathtub Toys - Fact or Fiction?

Assessing the reliability of science news reports

Accidental drifters are not limited to shoes. 10th January 1992 some 28,800 plastic bath-tub toys splashed into the sea at 44.7°N, 178.1°E. The first ducks arrived on beaches near Sitka in Alaska in September the same year, and then again in 1994, 1998, 2001, and 2003.

In May 2007 the rubber duck story ran in UK newspapers. The Daily Mail's story was picked up by the website "The Phoenix: where science is stranger than fiction". Do you know enough about ocean currents to check their story, repeated in shortened form below?


(Accessed 22 May, 2008)

"The rubber duckies are landing"

"15 years ago in 1992, rubber ducks - known as Friendly Floaties - were being shipped from Hong Kong to the US when three 40 foot containers fell into the Pacific Ocean after a storm. It sent nearly 30,000 rubber duckies out into the perilous waters.

20,000 of them went southward...washing ashore several months later in Australia, Indonesia, and even South America.

For the remaining 10,000 Friendly Floaties, their journey was just beginning. This Rubber Armada went north, lazily floating towards Alaska and the Beiring Strait. There, they met the harsh Arctic Ice. Incredibly, they managed to move a mile per day while frozen in ice, continuing their amazing North-West route towards the Atlantic Ocean....

After the ducks survived the Arctic Ice they were tracked in the North Atlantic. In 2001, they were found floating right over the area where the Titanic sank. Seems like the mighty vessel has nothin' on these rubber ducks!

They continued to float, and in 2003, scientists thought the Rubber Armada might make shore on America's Atlantic coast. The manufacturer, The First Years Inc. then put a bounty on each duckies head worth a $100 savings bond! (Only for those found in New England, Iceland, and Canada). Many scientists thought that this was going to be the end of the Rubber Armada's odyssey.

They were wrong. The rubber duckies that didn't wash up in the US have continued to travel in the Atlantic, and 17,000 miles and 15 years later are now heading towards Britain. They have lost their color, but these tough little ducks are still going strong."


Zoom Sign
World map with possible routes taken by the rubber ducks
Map of possible journeys taken by the bath-tub toys. Source: NOC
Map of possible journeys taken by the bath-tub toys. Source: NOC.

What do you think?

  • Do you believe this story?
  • Is it all fiction? Or could some of it be fact?
  • Why do you think the manufacturer offered awards only for ducks found in New England, Iceland and Canada?

The tale has been told in many versions over the years. Compare the version here to others you find on-line and an early, popular science version in the American Geophysical Union's Earth from Space.

  • What are the main differences?
  • Which of these do you trust?
  • Which do you find most interesting?

SEOS pages with relevant information

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